Prasa heads must roll after latest train crash

Two trains collided at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria, 8 January 2019. The train was reportedly carrying 800 passengers. Four people have been reported to have been killed so far and more than 600 are said to be injured. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Two trains collided at the Mountain View Station in Pretoria, 8 January 2019. The train was reportedly carrying 800 passengers. Four people have been reported to have been killed so far and more than 600 are said to be injured. Picture: Jacques Nelles

It should be the absolute priority of any rail organisation that signal failures be treated as emergencies and that train movements be instantly halted.

It is sad, but not at all surprising, that Transport Minister Blade Nzimande chose to play the old favourite South African “It’s not our fault” game by trying to lay the blame for Tuesday’s tragic train crash in Tshwane on cable theft.

Speaking after a visit to the site of the tragedy, at the Mountain View station, Nzimande devoted most of his wrath to security companies employed by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). According to the minister, these companies were merely interested in winning tenders and not providing property security, regarding Prasa as “an ATM” rather than a serious assignment. In this atmosphere, he said, criminals – those stealing copper and other metal cables – were thriving.

Cable theft is being blamed for the fact that signals on the line were not working properly, with the result that one moving train ploughed into the back of another stationary one, causing at least four deaths and more than 600 injuries.

While it is certainly true that cable theft has hit the rail transport sector particularly badly – and there has been no sign of the crime abating – the issue is a convenient red herring to obscure Prasa’s unforgiveable negligence.

The rail company has been criticised over the past year for poor procedures, which have already resulted in a number of crashes and fatalities because signals went down.

It should be the absolute priority of any rail organisation that signal failures be treated as emergencies and that train movements be instantly halted and only resumed when perfect clarity has been obtained on train locations.

It beggars belief that this is still clearly not happening – despite the heavy censure Prasa was given in having its operating licence temporarily withdrawn.

It is no good blaming cable theft. Heads must roll … starting at the top.

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